Some time ago a young man showed up at our church. He had never gone to church and was not a Christian. But he had been dating a believer and was increasingly uncomfortable with some spiritual oppression in his life. He told me that God had pushed him out of his house and to our church to seek help. I had the privilege of coming alongside that young man against the spiritual forces of darkness at work in his life in the name of Jesus. After he came to faith in Christ, that sense of spiritual oppression went away, leaving him with a deep sense of peace and joy.
His story reminds me of the Old Testament story of Ruth. For God gives faith and draws people into his family in unpredictable ways.
Ruth lived during the time when the judges ruled over Israel. It was a time of great lawlessness and idolatry (Judg. 2:10-12; 25); God’s people chose to worship the Canaanite god Baal and to do whatever they pleased. They did this in spite of God’s warning that when they abandoned him for other gods, their fields would be cursed, their crops would fail, and there would be famine in the land (Deut. 28:15-18).
And so it happened. Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” had no bread. The famine that plagued the Israelites wasn’t just a lack of rain. It was God’s judgment on them—a form of tough love in an attempt to get them to return to God. It showed them that Baal was powerless to make their crops grow or to provide them with food.
Leaving Israel The Israelites should have repented of their sin and turned back to God. But instead, Elimelech and Naomi left Israel to look for a better life among the pagan people of Moab. Things simply went from bad to worse. Now they were living apart from God in a pagan land where the likelihood of ever turning back to him was slim.
Very quickly Elimelech and Naomi experienced what life apart from God can be like. Elimelech died. Their two sons married pagan women, something God had consistently warned them against. Then Naomi’s sons died, leaving Naomi destitute. Harsh consequences. Life apart from God and from God’s people was not what they hoped it would be. It never is.
Sometimes we just don’t get it. God sends us warning after warning that the way we’re living is not going to end well, but we keep on doing what we want—a path that often leads to death of one kind or another.
A Turning Point Naomi decides to cut her losses and return to Israel. Since she can’t provide for herself—much less for Orpah and Ruth, her daughters-in-law, she encourages them to go back to their families in Moab. Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay,” she says. “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). In one of the great surprises in this story, Ruth the Moabitess is drawn to faith in God.
Faith is a gift from God. Sometimes we find faith in places we hope and pray to find it—such as in the hearts of our sons and daughters who have been raised to love and follow Jesus. Other times God plants faith in the hearts of people who seem unlikely to believe.
When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth did what poor people did in those days: she scavenged for grain behind the workers who were harvesting barley. This particular field belonged to a relative of Naomi named Boaz. Boaz was “a man of standing” as a wealthy landowner in Bethlehem. But would he help Naomi and Ruth?
Ruth was a Moabitess, a foreigner. Jews didn’t like foreigners. And she was a woman, which made it easy for others to take advantage of her. But Ruth wasn’t the first foreigner God had brought into Boaz’s family. His mother was Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who believed in the God of Israel and risked her life by protecting Israelite spies. As a result, she and her family were saved (Josh. 2). So God had a history of bringing Gentiles to faith in Boaz’s family!
Boaz invited Ruth to continue to glean in his fields for the rest of the harvest season. Temporarily then, Naomi and Ruth would have all the food they needed. But that food would eventually run out, and once again they would be hungry and destitute. What they really needed was a male relative to step up and protect them as members of his extended family. What they really needed was a redeemer.
In Boaz, that’s exactly what God had provided for Ruth and Naomi. As one of their closest relatives, he could fulfill the role of kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 2:20). He could buy their property, marry Ruth, and provide sons to carry on Elimelech’s family name. Chapters 3 and 4 tell the story: a bizzare wedding proposal, the refusal of a closer male relative to buy the property, the purchase of Elimelech’s property by Boaz, and the marriage of Boaz and Ruth.
Ruth’s Story Is Ours Just as Boaz left his threshing floor to redeem Naomi and Ruth, Jesus left heaven to come down to earth to redeem us. Just as Boaz risked his reputation and his estate in order to help two poor widows, Jesus gave his life in order to redeem us from sin and shame. Just as Boaz made a legal transaction in order to acquire land and people to be his very own, Jesus bought us to be his very own through his death and resurrection. And just as Boaz was willing to take in an outsider who was not a part of God’s covenant family, so Jesus has taken in many of us Gentile outsiders and adopted us to be a part of his eternal family.
God blessed Boaz and Ruth with a son they named Obed. Obed was the grandfather of King David, and David was the ancestor of Jesus. In the story of Ruth, we see God grafting Ruth into his family tree through Boaz. What a remarkable turn of events! God used the poor choices of a God-fearing family that led them away from him to lead a Moabite woman to faith. Not only did God welcome Ruth into a God-fearing family, but he made her an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
God does the same thing for us. He has adopted us into his family and grafted us onto his family tree (Rom. 11:17-24). For God’s goal is not to condemn us but to save us through Christ. God continues to draw those outside of his kingdom into his family, just as he recently drew a young man into our community. Most often he uses our relationships with “outsiders” to do so, just as used Boaz to draw Ruth to himself.
Who might God want to reach through you?